America in Class Lessons

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, 1776

Author: Wason, Marianne (NHC Assistant Director of Education Programs, Online Resources, 1997–2014)

By January 1776, the American colonies were in open rebellion against Britain. Their soldiers had captured Fort Ticonderoga, besieged Boston, fortified New York City, and invaded Canada. Yet few dared voice what most knew was true — they were no longer fighting for their rights as British subjects. They weren’t fighting for self-defense, or protection of their property, or to force Britain to the negotiating table. They were fighting for independence. It took a hard jolt to move Americans from professed loyalty to declared rebellion, and it came in large part from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Not a dumbed-down rant for the masses, as often described, Common Sense is a masterful piece of argument and rhetoric that proved the power of words.

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Subjects: Political Science; History; Education Studies; American Revolution; American History; Rhetoric; Primary Sources